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Career Coaching for Relief and Development

I have worked with hundreds of people to help them achieve their goal of a career in international relief and development. While this site is the general advice that I give to people interested in the topic, I also get a lot of questions that are very specific and detailed.

I’m delighted to announce that I am now offering individual coaching services for people who have in-depth questions about their situation, want feedback and support with resumes and cover letters, or want interview coaching and critique. This doesn’t mean that I will not be responding to questions on the site, or updating content, but is an additional service for people who want to work one-on-one on getting their first job in this line of work.

In the university course I teach on this topic I like to split the process into three stages:

1. Setting your goals and creating a job-search strategy. This is the process of formalizing your aims, looking at your previous experience and skills, and creating a realistic and achievable plan for getting from where you are to your dream job. I’ll work with you to do this, and at the end of the process you’ll have a step-by-step plan of the things you need to do to find your first job in relief and development, including how best to present and leverage your existing experience, organizations that you should approach, and job types that you should be applying for.

2. Resume and cover letter review and feedback. This is the next area where a lot of people need some help. Whether it is general feedback on your resume, or specific advice on how to best present your skills and experience in a way that aid recruiters will respond to, I will look at your cover letter and cv (preferably tailored to a specific job) and give you written and verbal feedback and advice on improving it to gain the attention of recruiters and do what you need it to do – get you an interview!

3. Interview coaching. The goal of a resume is to get you an interview for the job you want. Once you get it you’ll need to win over the hiring manager and convince them that you can do the job. I’ll give you pre-interview coaching, we will do a video mock-interview over Skype based on questions and techniques real aid agencies use, and then we will review your video together, identifying strengths and areas for improvement. This can be scary for a lot of people, but the best way to get good at interviewing is to practice interviewing using the types of interview styles and questions that aid agencies use.

For a free consultation, and advice on what you might benefit from most email me on nick(at)nickmacdonald(dot)net and we can work out a plan that fits your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. How much do you charge?

A. It depends. Drop me an email and we can discuss it. My rates are in line with industry norms, but it depends a little on where in the world you are and what you need from me. I’m also sympathetic to people with challenging financial situations.

Q. Does this mean you won’t be answering questions on the site any more?

A. No. I’m still very happy to answer general questions that will be of interest to a broad range of people on the site, but I’m unable to keep up with the volume of requests I get for personalized advice. This is the best way I can think of to maintain that service for people who need it while allowing me to pay the bills.

Q. Does this apply if I’m a student in one of your university classes?

A. No. If you’re in one of my classes, or a referral from a colleague or friend then I’m delighted to talk to you pro-bono.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Jahor permalink
    November 13, 2013 11:41 am

    I am a development officer from Eastern Europe with the focus on working mainly with vulnerable populations. For a while I have been thinking about finding a new job and started sending my resumes to employers. It didn’t seem to work. I addressed Nick for help and the advice he provided to me was really useful. First of all, we discussed the big picture and he helped me to get a direction and be more specific with my search. Second, he helped me to fix my cover letter and my resume. Now I am much more confident about my chances of landing a new job.

    Nick also charged me a very reasonable fee, which is an important thing for all of us development folks living in the real world. At the same time I believe this was one of the most strategic investments I have ever made. 🙂

    Thanks a lot, Nick!

    • Mark Salgado permalink
      November 18, 2013 12:28 pm

      Your site was helpful, Thank you. How can I get connected with the humanitarian aid community and where can I get certified as an aid worker?

  2. November 3, 2014 11:45 am

    Hi Nick, You have certainly dedicated impressive energy to analyzing the career horizons in International work. Humanitarian Relief/Aid work aside, might you have guidelines for International Development/International Health specialists with regard to Salary Levels and Trajectories? In evaluating a current offer, I’ve been digging around to prepare for a negotiation. Surprisingly, neither alumni offices, Glass-Door, career coaches, devex… have specific data for folks with a masters in ID/IH by years of experience and sub-spec….. Available averages are conglomerate and so wide as to become meaningless… eg 40K-80K. I have 5 years of International Experience working and living in Africa and a masters in global health from Hopkins. With family to support one needs to establish a reasonable trajectory so as to be able to provide. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

    • November 3, 2014 4:09 pm

      Hi there,
      You know, you’ve pretty much exhausted my go-to list of places. I don’t think you’re going to find a good guide, so your only real option is to adopt an ethical negotiation strategy.
      I would figure out what you need / want to support your family, and keep that number in your back pocket as a walk-away option. Then I would talk to the negotiator about their scale, and ask to see their ranges and rationale for putting people where they do.
      Salary negotiation is a whole set of grief, but ranges at different organizations are huge. If the organization isn’t willing to share how they negotiate, that’s an alarm bell.
      Hope that helps somewhat,

  3. November 3, 2014 4:43 pm

    Nick, Endless thanks for weighing in so thoughtfully and candidly. I’ve spoken with a few GH folks who really wish they had had guidelines and guidance on this…especially as salary history seems to be so important for American GH positions… if you get locked in low… you really lose. Be great to have an expert on this:) !!! While, I’ve heard folks say there is wide range between organizations, if we take Emergency relief/aid work out, is that still the case? I’m hearing 2 camps: Employed Folks with Masters seem to say if one has 3-5 yrs experience 60K would be min…. The second camp is those who are looking and they seem to be so devastated by the daunting market they are ready to volunteer for subsistence.
    The position I’m looking at was posted at 50K… the preliminary offer came in at 40K… They have 2 entries in Glassdoor for managers at 60K [no specs on years of experience or degrees] My last post was 50K plus full R&B. My family really needs at least 50-55K and for me to get to 60K in the next 2 years. What’s might be the most shrewd approach here?

  4. November 3, 2014 4:52 pm

    You know, this really isn’t my area of expertise – I would say that you should counter asking for 60, and making a strong case for why that’s the market and you’re worth it. Make an evidence driven case (salary history, rates for different orgs, your needs) and, consider whether you’re prepared to walk away if you don’t get it.

  5. August 1, 2015 10:28 pm

    Hi Nick,

    I am taking International Development studies in University of Toronto. I have 2 more years left. I did do a coop position in the Engineering Department at the university. I learned how to work in a corporation and how to get donations. I also volunteer at an NGO but there is no scope to get a job there since its a 100 % volunteer position. I don’t know what to do next and how to land a job as a international aid worker. Please help !

  6. Martina Mina permalink
    September 9, 2015 2:50 am

    Hello Nick,
    I am a recent architecture graduate and have spent the last few years doing volunteer work both at home and abroad on community development and aid relief projects. I have been accepted onto the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development course at The Bartlett in London but have had to defer it for one year as I do not have the funds (£11,300).
    I am currently living off social security benefits whilst trying to find paid work in development but largely spending my time on volunteer projects.
    I would really appreciate any advice on both how to go about trying to attain funds for my MSc through charities etc and also how to go about finding paid work in this field in the year before I start the course.
    Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated!

    • September 16, 2015 3:29 pm

      Martina- I’m sorry – I don’t have any experience in getting funding for education – good luck with it!

    • October 21, 2016 11:35 am

      After reading your post I would postpone school and beef up your resume to highlight the work you did also get letters of reference and start seeking independent development jobs in the area of expertise

  7. Matthew permalink
    October 7, 2015 6:30 pm

    I am a freshman engineering student from the US, and I am doing a paper for my engineering class on careers that I might want to have in life. I cannot seem to find anywhere who I talk to on the college level to get started in International development. Any ideas?

    • October 7, 2015 6:53 pm

      Hey Matthew – did you read the site? It has my ideas for how to get started in international development! Did I misunderstand the question?

  8. vishnu permalink
    March 17, 2016 4:31 am

    Hey Nick,
    I am a recent architect graduate, I would like to get into relief and development and it need not be related to architecture. Is there any way I can either volunteer or start as a fresher in any of the conflict countries (the current refugee crisis or Africa )? I would like to help them in any way possible.
    I am 23, Indian and a freelancer after graduating.

    Thank you,

  9. Luke mckernan permalink
    April 18, 2016 8:34 am


    If I can just start by saying what a well presented web site this is, very helpful.

    I have a few questions regarding humanitarian aid work.

    Thanks. Luke mckernan.

    • April 18, 2016 8:36 am

      Thank you Luke,
      Feel free to let us know what your questions are!

  10. May 1, 2016 1:28 pm

    Hi Nick,

    Thank you very much for the great insights on this forum.
    I’m an IT specialist by profession with 7 years of experience working with International NGOs; 3 years as a full time employee and 4 years on short contracts. I feel it’s time for me to be on full-time employment again, but this time my focus is to joining the UN. So, i need your help with the applications….Cover letters, resume, interview preparation etc. I will be contacting you soon.


    • May 18, 2016 2:57 pm

      Thanks Patrick, please do feel free to contact me. I try to answer questions on the site that have general applicability, but if what you need is specific coaching on cover letters, resumes etc, then I’m afraid I have to charge for that. I would love to work with you on this, Thanks, Nick

  11. May 24, 2016 6:35 pm


    I am a 30 year old soon to graduate end of summer majoring in photography. I spent 4 years in the Marines and in those 4 years spent a lot of time overseas (Asian Pacific & Iraq.) I saw that you charge for your services and would be willing to pay for a individualized plan if I go that route so I will keep this pretty general. Only having a Bachelors in fine art photography is obviously not enough to land the job I want. As a combat veteran with lots of hands on experience with social illness and conflicts; is this combonation enough to make up for the lack of a masters degree and to be considered “experience” in the humanitarian sector or even get my resume looked at by the right people? I have some experience working with non profits (Operation Smile) and various homeless shelters in the area.


    • May 31, 2016 9:13 pm

      Stephen – I’m going to reply to this in a blog post – hope to chat soon,

  12. Oscar permalink
    July 12, 2016 4:48 am

    Dear Nick,

    For the past 7 years, I have worked for shipping agencies and freight forwarders in the commercial sector, and now I´d like to apply my skills in the humanitarian context (as logistician on the field).

    Do you think it´s best to get a certificate in humanitarian logistics first, or maybe volunteer and learn by doing?

    Thanks in advance for your help!!


    • Nicole Fortin permalink
      November 28, 2016 3:57 am

      Dear Oscar,

      I have 13 years in air operations for UPS and I sincerely wish I had done Bioforce or the Fritz Institute instead of getting a Master’s degree. Just from my own personal experience…


  13. August 2, 2016 11:06 am

    Aloha Nick,

    I’m feeling like I’ve discovered a rare gem in finding your website- so here goes… While having no direct experience in the aid world, I’m ready to delve into it. I’m an archaeologist (15 years in Hawaii) and, most recently after my MA TESOL degree, an English instructor. I’m ready to go to the next level and wondering how to do so with my credentials. I’ve taught in Tunisia, SE Turkey, Bahrain (a teaching fellow with the DOS) and currently in Istanbul. I know I am a fit for somewhere, and I do have a few contacts in the aid world, but having difficulties in reading through NGO directories/job advertisements. I have ideas on how I’d like to present my skill range, but I’m just not sure about the aid world pecking order, etc.

  14. October 21, 2016 11:27 am

    Thank you for your insights

  15. Izhar Bleiweiss permalink
    March 9, 2017 2:58 am

    Dear Nick
    I am very grateful to come across your website. I find it very helpful . I am 60 years old have been working with people with special needs , mainly mentally and physically challenged .three years ago I have stepped out of the organization I have initiated in Israel in 1995 , for sharing my skills , experience and knowledge with communities in Africa and in the last year in India. it was all voluntary based .
    Now I would like to find a job in the field of special needs or any other humanitarian subject.
    I am a mediator and a group facilitator as well.
    could you please advice me how to get an axes to the right position ? right organization ?
    I am willing to work anywhere , supporting individuals and communities.
    thank you

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